If you’ve been wondering what’s been keeping Lee Southall busy all this time, you’re about to find out. On Iron In The Fire, the former The Coral guitarist brings the outside world in through quality songmanship – showing that whichever paths our lives may take, our exposure to the elements will remain the same.
Taking an alternative path to each of his Coral cohorts, when the group disbanded in 2012, Lee left behind his native seaside town of Hoylake on the Wirral, and moved 75 miles inland to the ‘tops’ of Hebden Bridge. In search of a fresh start, the dramatic wind-beaten and changeable landscape gave Lee time and space to craft Iron In The Fire but equally, it lingers like the taste of the salty air hanging above the coast. “I’ve lived by the sea and watched weather roll in, but it's the same in Hebden, watching storms roll over the moors,” Lee says. “The place is changing all the time and sometimes looks a bit chocolate box, village of the year, but when the tourists are gone it can feel like the set of a 1970s BBC folk horror - a bit Wicker Man.”
Written in his new hilltop dwellings between spending time with his daughter (‘Spread Your Wings’ and ‘Yesterday Morning’ were inspired by her) Iron In The Fire’s initial demos were home recorded in Lee’s conservatory and the kitchen of good friend John Heron. Emerging from demos where birdsong interrupts the fret-squeaks, the album’s warmth recalls the classically 70s West Coast America sounds of James Taylor and The Byrds, alongside Brit folk outsiders John Martyn, Bert Jansch, and Davey Graham. “Recording in the conservatory was interesting,” Lee recalls. “In some of the demos you can hear the rain battering on the roof. It has a natural quality I love. Some of that is in the album… the sound of fingers on strings. I wanted it to sound human, not too smooth or polished.”
In a sad turn of events, his friend Heron passed away having never heard the final record, but from those initial recordings Iron In The Fire evolved and just like the interchangeable weather of West Yorkshire itself, moves confidently from the beautiful to the mysterious. From the simplistic title-track which introduces a wave of erudite guitar with just a few lines of lyrics, to the heady textures of frenzied ‘In Accordance,’ or ‘Misty Mae’s reference to two worlds, we’re given a full and varied picture of Lee’s musical and personal journey so far.
“When I play the songs live it's fluid; they can and do change. I don't like things too structured. Some are like soundtracks, there's a lot of weird stuff going on around them,” he emphasises. Riding the elements, ‘Under The Weather’ and ‘Above The Storm’ incorporate Lee’s love of films and classic TV series by bringing their own atmospheric tales into the fore whilst ‘Sleep’s pedal steel twang and the cello on ‘Blue Skies’ channels his inner Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons.
Self-financed, the album was recorded over just a few days at Manchester’s Airtight studios with Lee’s own league of melody makers; producer Seadna McPhaill, guitarist Ant Davey, and Mark 'Horse' Phillips on pedal steel with Al Lowles from Airtight on mastering duties. However the album is very much the sound of Southall standing alone on his own two feet. “Music's in my blood, it's all I know how to do. The decision to work on my own album felt obvious, natural. Iron In The Fire feels like something I've been waiting for.”
1. Iron In The Fire
2. Misty Mae
3. Shade Of Blue
5. Under The Weather
6. Blue Skies
7. Nobody Wins
8. Spread Your Wings
9. Yesterday Morning
10. Above The Storm
11. In Accordance